“In our continued hunt to maximize yields and combat limiting factors, growers need to look at nutrient needs,” said Edwin Suarez, senior agronomist for Koch Agronomic Services (Koch). “One of the ways we speak to growers about nutrient deficiencies is by using Liebig’s Barrel, which is an illustration based on Liebig’s Law of the Minimum”.
How it Works
Liebig’s Law of the Minimum was formulated by German scientist Justus von Liebig. It states that if one essential plant nutrient is deficient, plant growth will be poor even when all other essential nutrients are abundant. Liebig’s Law of the Minimum is the scientific underpinning for the Liebig’s Barrel visualization below.
Each stave of the barrel represents a different, essential nutrient. The length of each stave equals the amount of each nutrient in the soil available for plant uptake. If the limiting factor isn’t remedied, then your stave stays shorter and prevents your barrel from holding more water. The barrel shows just how important every nutrient is for a plant’s potential yield.
Liebig’s Barrel helps us to understand:
- Identifying the limiting factors of your soil is an essential step in improving yield potential.
- Increasing the amount of plentiful nutrients will not increase potential plant growth.
- Increasing the amount of the most limited nutrient can you improve the potential plant growth.
- Protect the plentiful nutrients so they don’t become limiting factors.
Don’t Short Your Crop’s Potential
The Law of the Minimum takes on added importance when input costs are high, and when growers may be tempted to reduce or even eliminate applications of micro- or macronutrients. For example, if soil is deficient in zinc, yields will be depressed regardless of how much other macro or micronutrients you apply.
“Determining which element of plant development is the limiting factor can be challenging, so taking soil samples is an important step for growers to make,” said Suarez. “The findings will help to reduce operating costs and improve crop health and productivity.”
Part of the 4R Nutrient StewardshiP
Liebig’s Barrel is further proof of the importance of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship framework. By helping determine the right source, rate, time and place of all a plant’s needed nutrients, growers can fine tune their inputs to protect the nutrients that are already abundant and add only the amounts needed of the deficient nutrients. Practicing good stewardship keeps the staves of the barrel even, leading to increased yield and helping to promote a crop reaching its full potential.